Faustin Linyekula / Les Studios Kabako
'Festival of Lies'
by Toba Singer
November 9-11, 2007 -- Yerba Buena Forum, Yerba Buena, CA
Faustin Linyekula and his Studio Kabako troupe covered a lot of territory with the “Triptyque Sans Titre” road show that they brought to San Francisco about a year and a half ago. At the time, Linyekula was a Congolese exile who declined to place a label on his apparent political estimate of the repugnant history of his country that began in the Belgian court of King Leopold, the excrudescence of which continued long after the CIA-purchased assassination of the loved and respected rebel, Patrice Lamumba. I was able to interview him at the time and by way of at once skirting and originating political characterizations, he said, “My nation is my body.”
Times have changed. With “Festival of Lies,” which was presented in a cabaret format to Yerba Buena Forum audiences over the weekend of November 9-11, there is less of the artistic nugget that was so powerfully unearthed in “Triptyque” and more of a political sounding taken, where the three lies of his country, as Linyekula puts it – “Democratic,” “Republic” [of the] “Congo” – are deconstructed via screened excerpts from speeches given over the years from traitors such as Moïse Tshombe to opportunists such as Lawrence Kabila, with Lamumba’s words cutting through the muck of those of the others. The cabaret offers not only food and drink, but a dance floor that is taken over by the audience during intermission when a pickup band (a different one for each venue on the Kabako tour) plays irresistible “high life” rhythms.
Of course when you serve alcoholic beverages, you get hecklers – and there were even one or two of those among the audience members Linyekula exhorted to buy food and drink because government support for the arts is hard to find on the continent of Africa. The end result was the dispersal of audience and performer energy in too many different directions as the focus shifted from dance, where Linyekula, Papy Ebotani and Djodjo Kazadi undulated to the rhythms, or knocked one another down and then lifted one another up, or bonded together only to hobble the progress of all three when each tried to escape the boggle of their own making.
Framed neon light tubes were used to create a stage from the amorphous dance floor, or more precisely, a kind of baseball diamond where the squares assembled and then pulled apart created the bases or stations where dance combinations were performed. Dancers also used the bandstand to fall onto their backs, legs up in the air like babies waiting to be diapered or insect corpses – which Linyekula coyly referred to as “African Modern Dance.”
No longer content to shy away from characterizing his politics along the lines of his body being his nation, Linyekula says that he is a communist, and from what he has screened of the words of other political figures, one would have to assume that he means that he is the kind of communist that Che Guevara was, as opposed to the kind of communist Joseph Stalin or Mao Zedong pretended they were. Towards the end, he hands out flyers bearing Lamumba’s image as mementos of the evening and perhaps to signal hope for the emergence of future Lamumbas in the next generation.
Marie-Louise Bibish Mumbu sings or recites poetry that she has written to secure her generation’s place in the timeline of the history of the Congolese/Zairian struggle. While her presence is commanding (so much so that one of the drunken audience members tried unsuccessfully to pull her onto the dance floor as his partner during the intermission), the poetry is not.
The later weekend edition of this program runs six hours. The neon lights left me with eye pain after three. While it may be possible to feed people more times over six hours, it’s not their heads that will be better fed by the increased exposure. While more is shown and said in “Festival of Lies” than “Triptyque Sans Titre,” one might consider that asking an audience – most of whose members have put in an eight-hour day at work – to move from interpreting political speeches spoken in French and screened in English, lining up to buy food and drink in a party atmosphere and then concentrating on the dance, props, poetry and symbolism tucked into neon light frames as they eat and drink, can push past the limits of absorption.
Not everyone, after all, has the stamina, nor are they as sharp-witted and physically and politically attuned yet as the members of Studio Kabako! Still, U.S. audiences can benefit hugely from the interface with the history and culture of the Congo, and one hopes that Studio Kabako can get past the urbane heckler-prone audiences of cities like San Francisco and find a warm reception among audiences in the more working class cities of Detroit, Cleveland, Newark, Birmingham and Pittsburgh. They work rotating shifts in those cities, and so the program will have to be tailored to the audiences’ work schedules.
Read related stories in the press and see what others are saying. Click here.